Minister urges schools to run summer scheme after low take-up reported

Only ‘five or six’ schools sign up compared to over 230 last year, Sinn Féin TD claims

Joe McHugh: Once approved by Government all schools and parents would have the guidelines and the opportunity to register and they would then establish the level of demand. Photograph: Leon Farrell/PA

Joe McHugh: Once approved by Government all schools and parents would have the guidelines and the opportunity to register and they would then establish the level of demand. Photograph: Leon Farrell/PA

 

Concerns have been raised that only a handful of schools have applied to participate in the July school programme for children with special needs.

Minister for Education Joe McHugh said final guidelines for the project will be issued on Friday following a Cabinet meeting.

He appealed to schools, teachers and special needs assistants (SNAs) to participate in the scheme which usually benefits 10,000 children with severe and profound intellectual disabilities and those with autism and will include children with Down syndrome for the first time.

Mr McHugh said he hoped they could double the number of children involved but Fianna Fáil education spokesman Thomas Byrne and Sinn Féin’s Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire questioned how the the scheme could operate on anything near the scale the Minister wanted when they said there was no information, detail or guidelines about how the project could operate.

Mr McHugh acknowledged the programme could only run with the support of schools, principals, teachers, SNAs and other staff.

Mr Ó Laoghaire said it was his understanding that only five or six schools had signed up so far and “I am becoming increasingly alarmed about the confusion that exists”.

He had also spoken to teachers who ordinarily participate but “who are not prepared to do so now because they are unhappy about the lack of detail and feel uncertain”.

The Cork South-Central TD asked how could anything be prepared when it was already June 10th.

“ The elephant in the room is that it might not be possible to deliver this on anything near the scale the Minister has discussed.”

Opening a two-hour Dáil debate on the summer school plan, the Minister said he would set out the final shape of the programme at a Cabinet meeting on Friday.

Once approved by Government all schools and parents would have the guidelines and the opportunity to register and they would then establish the level of demand.

Mr Ó Laoghaire noted that the Minister did not contradict his figure of only five or six applications. But the Minister said initial contact had been “quite positive”.

He told TDs that last year 232 schools out of 4,000 participated and 70 per cent of the programme was home-based.

“I believe that it is essential that a summer education programme runs this year for those most in need,” Mr McHugh said.

He said that public health guidance to schools and provision of appropriate supports would be important elements in ensuring that any summer programme could take place.

“I know the positive impact that a programme will have and I want to see it happen but we must again do so in a safe way for all concerned.”

Mr McHugh will also update the Cabinet on the planning for the “maximum return to school possible in late August and September”.

He told opposition TDs: “I want to really emphasise that any programme will be voluntary in nature and it will be a matter for individual choice as to whether a school or a teacher feels they can participate.

“I cannot pretend that this is a small request given the challenges we have all faced since this pandemic first arrived.”

He added that the summer programme was essential for those most in need. “It will help children to reconnect with learning and assist their return to schools in the autumn. An education programme will also help to reduce regression for those at greatest risk of this happening.”